On the agenda today: self-publishing and publicity. What else are you dying to know about?
All the best,
The Girl with the Red Pencil
Q: I’ve been wondering about the publicity end of it. I understand that a willingness to be proactive with book promotion makes agents and publishers happy, but how much of that “willingness” needs to come out of your pocketbook? What’s a fair contribution on the part of the author?
A: Publishers aren’t paying for many author tours these days. They just don’t have the budget for it, especially if the author isn’t a big name with legions of fans who will come to events and buy books. Consider the finances of it. A publisher usually makes about three to four dollars on each hardcover sold. If an author manages to sell eighteen copies at an event, that’s $54 to $72, which will only cover a tiny fraction of travel costs. And as much as I hate to admit it, publishing, like any business, is about the bottom line (oh, how I wish it were just about literature
But there are so many things you can do. First, work with your publicist to set up as many events in your area as possible. If you can drive there—or, even better, take the bus or the subway—go give a reading! If your local bookstores aren’t interested in hosting one, see if you can stop by one afternoon and sign stock. I think that “autographed copy” sticker goes a long way. Readers are always fascinated by local authors—you’re their hometown hero! And if you go visit your sister in Alabama, try to set up a reading. If you have to attend a conference in Utah, set up a reading. You get the idea. Your publisher may not have a tour budget for you, but you can create your own tour on the cheap. You’re planning to travel to these places anyway, so there’s no extra cost, and therefore not much damage to your wallet.
What else can you do? Concentrate on what’s free. Many marketing departments at publishing houses are focusing on the internet because it’s free (except ads) AND effective. Set up a website about your book, and post original content on a regular basis to keep people coming back. Connect with your audience. Respond to the emails readers send to your site with a personal note, even if it’s short. Talk to your publisher about blogging on bookseller websites. The bookstores like it because any exclusives bring people to their site, and you’ll like it because people will be more likely to buy your book, and keep an eye out for the next one.
Create a Facebook page and get everyone you know to become “a fan.” Then the people they know will check it out, and so on. Facebook isn’t just for teenagers! Most of the authors I know have an active Facebook presence.
Offer to do guest posts on blogs that have the same focus as your book. Oftentimes bloggers are relieved to have the day off, and you’ll reach a whole new audience.
There are so many things you can do for free or on the cheap. Your biggest expenditure will be your time and energy. Writing a book may be hard, but selling it can be even harder. Good luck!
Q: Self-publishing—amazing opportunity, or a complete waste of time?
A: That depends. I’ve written up a little quiz:
1. If I self-publish my book, I’ll have a really pretty package that will make publishing houses more interested in my project. True or False?
2. I’ll be able to get my self-published novel the same kind of attention that books published by big houses receive. If it’s good, it will get publicity. True or false?
3. I really just want to get my story down so I can share it with my friends and relatives. I’m not expecting my book to be a bestseller. True or false?
Ok, so if you answered true to the first two statements, well, you’re probably too optimistic. When I receive submissions of self-published books, I generally ignore them. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a stigma surrounding self-publishing in the industry, and a standard publishing house isn’t likely to pick up your book if it was self-published first. As for the publicity aspect, you’re not likely to receive much attention for your self-published book. When a house like Simon & Schuster or Random House submits a book for review, the publicist is writing to established contacts on the letterhead of a respected company. Sure, every book published by the big houses isn’t great, but reviewers know that publishers are selective, and, well, a book published by a house with a good reputation is less likely to be crap than one that was self-published. Unless you have golden media connections, it’s going to be hard to get your book in the right hands, let alone convince them to review it.
There was a more specific question from one of your fellow she-writers about the difficulty of selling a book to a traditional publishing house after self-publishing a previous book. I don’t think that’s an issue, but I wouldn’t advertise that book in your new proposal. First, there is
a stigma, and second, the sales of your self-published book aren’t likely to convince an editor that you’re a good bet (because how can the book sell well if it doesn’t get any media attention?)
If you answered true for the third question, self-publishing isn’t a bad idea at all. You recognize its limitations and your expectations are reasonable. Perhaps you want to write your family history or a collection of your mother’s recipes. Maybe you’d like to have a book of poems published to share with your children, who inspired them. Or you head a company and want your employees to have a nicely packaged ethics manual, or an inspirational story to motivate them. In these cases, self-publishing will serve all your needs.
(and there are always
exceptions): If you are a popular speaker with followers who attend your conferences in droves, self-publish your book! You have a built-in audience of readers, and the perfect venue in which to sell books. Do you have a huge presence in a city with a hopping tourist trade? I bet that Naked Cowboy could sell the pants off a book—people come from all over to see him, and he could hawk books to his fans. And think about the Art Car guy in California. I saw him on the street in L.A. once, selling books out of the trunk of the coolest art car I’d ever seen. He had a built-in audience, and built-in publicity (the car!). A lot of the people who stopped to check out the car bought a book.
And now, a book that flies in the face of everything I just said (though I did say there were exceptions):
was self-published in the UK in 2005. Avon, a division of HarperCollins, published the book as Could It Be Magic?
in the UK in early 2009. Her second novel, Coming Home
, will be published in the UK in a matter of months and Random House will publish the American debut of Being Lauren/Could It Be Magic? as Life as I Know It
in February 2010. How did Melanie Rose, the author, make it happen? Well, Being Lauren
was voted one of the favorite reads of the year by listeners of the UK’s Radio 4's Open Book program. It probably also took a bit of magic…
***Please note that although I work at Random House, this column represents my own thoughts and opinions and not necessarily those expressed or endorsed by my employer***